The statement from Zambia Police spokesperson Esther Mwaata Katongo explaining what led to the accident involving Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s motorcade on Sunday, amounts to nothing but an admission of guilt.
In their statement, the police are admitting that there was a light truck coming from the opposite direction of the presidential motorcade, which did not pave way for the oncoming convoy to pass. In the same statement, the police are claiming that they did what they call “route lining”, as they are mandated under the VIP protection law, to prevent other road users from obstructing the safe passage of a Head of State.
According to Madam Katango, there was an officer on his point of route lining duty, so close to where the accident happened, that he was actually hit by one of the vehicles involved. We would like to ask why the said officer allowed that Toyota Dyna light truck to be on the Highway, knowing very well that at that very moment, President Kabila was using that road in a high-speed convoy. Did this officer have a police radio and was he monitoring the movements of the VVIP he was tasked to protect?
We ask this because reading Madam Katongo’s statement gives an impression that the police were not wrong; the State doesn’t seem like it is about to take responsibility for the death of an innocent motorist. But before they get away with this, the public is demanding to know “what was the essence of route lining if it was not to physically alert motorists that there was a VVIP convoy approaching, which needed to use the entire width of the road?”
In the absence of that explanation, it is safe to say that this accident was caused by the police, and the command is guilty for the murder of Andrew Phiri who was driving the said light truck. In the eyes of the public, it is either the police officers who were tasked to control traffic on Leopards Hill Road, were not doing their job, or the officer in the State House sweeper vehicle was overzealously trying to bump off oncoming motorists, when it was not necessary.
We would be failing in our duty if we don’t remind citizens that the Kabila motorcade accident is a grave replication of the incident that transpired in Mongu last year, leading to treason charges for the opposition UPND president Hakainde Hichilema. In fact, it was a little bit understandable that police struggled to clear traffic in the Mongu case because there were hundreds of vehicles. But the President Kabila motorcade accident happened on a Sunday morning when there is usually no traffic build up on the roads in Lusaka.
Inspector General of police Mr Kakoma Kanganja must tell the nation who will be charged and arrested for causing the accident, because this is much closer to treason than the Mongu incident where the police command exhibited the same levels of incompetence.
Strangely, our police do not seem to understand the gravity of this presidential motorcade accident; or maybe they are trying to downplay the embarrassing implications. Whatever the case, we need the police to appreciate that the Zambian people are smart enough to make informed interpretations when a blunder has been made; therefore, when they ask questions, sensible and logical answers must be given.
Police cannot just give an explanation that it was impossible for President Kabila to be harmed in the accident because there were sweepers in front of the convoy. World leaders and celebrities more famous, more powerful and much more protected than President Kabila have died in similar road accident. Therefore we hope a more honest apology has followed the Congolese leader over that accident, and not the propaganda that was circulated by Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya yesterday.
How Can Siliya claim that the driver of the light truck disobeyed police instructions and overtook more than 10 vehicles before colliding with the oncoming presidential motorcade? This is more embarrassing than keeping quiet because even a fool knows that you can only overtake a vehicle that is on the road, not parked along the road; so what were these “more than 10 vehicles” doing on the road if police cleared the way for President Kabila?
In fact, the State owes the family of the late Andrew Phiri an explanation too, other than using him as a scapegoat, just because he is no longer here to defend himself. Phiri died not knowing what wrong he did and who killed him, because as far as he was concerned he was driving on his right side of the road. At 35, the late Phiri was definitely a provider, and his family was waiting to see him return home in good health that evening.
But maybe the arrogance from the police deserves a reminder of the worst that could have happened, and why Zambians are concerned that a visiting President was exposed to such levels of danger.
The never-ending war in Congo DR is only getting worse, as millions now demand that Mr Kabila either step down or at least calls for peaceful elections in that country. There is no doubt that those who want to succeed the Congolese leader would be very happy to hear the news that something tragic happened to him. If that happened in Zambia, it would not be the police alone to face the anguish of the Congolese people who support Mr Kabila’s presidency. This case would not be understood as a mere accident.
What is worse is that the host President was not with his visiting counterpart when the accident happened. This too would suggest that Mr Kabila did not deserve maximum VVIP security and protection while in Zambia. This accident would also carry a connotation that, Mr Kabila was less significantly respected. That is what makes this incident a huge diplomatic blunder for which we expect our police to be apologetic.
Put more explicitly, it is the same reaction that Zambians would have if anything happened to our own President Edgar Lungu in a foreign country like South Africa, for example. That government would plead innocent and claim that there was no conspiracy attached to the accident, but how many PF supporters would hear that explanation? The end result would be xenophobic attacks in the two countries, leading to diplomatic hatred and a consequential sharp decline in trade volumes between the two countries.
On 8 December, 1991, late president Levy Mwanawasa was involved in a similar traffic accident in which his aide died on the spot, leaving him with multiple body injuries. Like is the case with all VVIP accidents, conspiracy theories emerged, and have remained unresolved to date. That is why there is always great need for those entrusted with the safety of Presidents to be exemplary in their duty.
We pity madam Katongo because she is really trying her best to take the heat on behalf of the police command. Ms Katongo is a very media friendly police spokesperson; satisfyingly responsive in social media groups where she provides prompt answers to all inquiries from journalists. Sadly, some police blunders are too big for her to explain without looking stupid.
We are afraid that while madam Katongo is making efforts to show the good side of the police service, the police command itself is not doing its job. The big bosses are hiding their incompetence behind their ranks. An example of what we are trying to say is the recruitment of Chinese police reserves last year. Like many other foolish decisions made by the police command, this was left in the hands of Madam Katongo to clean up while the bosses went to hide from the angry public.
We have a message for bwana Kakoma Kanganja, the Inspector General of police. Sir; switch on! You are embarrassing the President.